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German governor elected with far-right help seeks new vote

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

BERLIN (AP) — A new German state governor who got the job with the help of the far-right announced Thursday that he is seeking a new regional vote, a day after his surprise election shook Germany and unleashed widespread condemnation.

Thomas Kemmerich, of the small pro-business Free Democrats, said that his party will file a motion to dissolve the eastern region of Thuringia’s state legislature and bring about a new election, succumbing to mounting pressure.

Wednesday’s surprise election of Kemmerich by Thuringia’s state legislature with the help of the far-right Alternative for Germany has turned into a major embarrassment for Germany’s mainstream center-right parties and revived questions about the future of the country’s governing coalition.

Chancellor Angela Merkel — whose party’s own regional lawmakers voted for Kemmerich Wednesday against national leaders’ wishes — on Thursday condemned his election as “inexcusable” and said the result must not stand.

Thuringia’s last election in October produced an inconclusive result. The governor is elected by the state legislature.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned as “inexcusable” the election of a new German state governor with the help of the far-right as well as her own party, and said Thursday that the result must not stand.

Wednesday’s surprise election of Thomas Kemmerich, a member of the small pro-business Free Democrats, to lead the eastern state of Thuringia has turned into a major embarrassment for Germany’s mainstream center-right parties and revived questions about the future of the country’s governing coalition.

Kemmerich narrowly defeated a left-wing incumbent after the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, voted for him instead of its own candidate in the state legislature. Left-leaning parties and many on the center-right said that accepting votes from AfD — whether or not they were solicited — broke a taboo and was unacceptable. Kemmerich was holding out Thursday against mounting pressure to resign.

The state legislature elects the governor. The Left Party finished first in the election, followed by AfD and Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union. Kemmerich’s Free Democrats, who are traditional allies of the CDU, only just mustered enough support to enter the legislature, with five of its 90 seats.

CDU leaders called for a new election in Thuringia. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded Merkel as party leader in 2018, said local CDU lawmakers acted against instructions from the national leadership in voting for Kemmerich.

Merkel vented her displeasure at a news conference during a visit to South Africa. She said Kemmerich’s election “broke with a fundamental conviction for the CDU, and for me too, that no majorities should be won with help from AfD.”

Wednesday’s vote came long after an October state election in which outgoing governor Bodo Ramelow’s left-wing coalition lost its majority. In a first for Germany, it produced no majority for any combination without either Ramelow’s Left Party — which the center-right shuns as a descendant of East Germany’s ruling communists, though Ramelow is moderate — or AfD, which is particularly strong and radical in the east.

Merkel said in Pretoria that the outcome had been “foreseeable” — “so one has to say that this event is inexcusable, and the result must be reversed.” She said that the CDU must not participate in Kemmerich’s government.

“It was a bad day for democracy,” she said, adding that everything must now be done to show that what happened in Thuringia doesn’t reflect “what the CDU thinks and does.”

Leaders of Merkel’s often-tense coalition with the center-left Social Democrats are to meet on Saturday to discuss the Thuringia mess. Social Democrat leaders have said it raises questions for the CDU that demand quick answers, fueling renewed speculation over whether the coalition will last until its term ends late next year.

Merkel said her party has sent “very clear” signals after Wednesday’s events.

Martin Florack, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg, told ARD television that the fiasco weakens Kramp-Karrenbauer and leaves “the impression that the CDU in Berlin has no influence in Thuringia.”

Merkel’s party has yet to decide who will run to succeed her as chancellor in the next election. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who narrowly defeated a more conservative rival in 2018, has struggled to impose her authority on the party.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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